Syria must free dozens of children held in an interrogation centre after they were evacuated from rebel-held parts of the city of Homs, the UN children’s agency said on Tuesday.
“As of today, there are 56 children at the facility, including 34 boys between (ages) 15 and 18, 10 boys under 15, and 12 girls below 18,” said Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for UNICEF.
“Most of the children are under 15 and the girls are there with their families because their fathers or brothers are still being processed,” she told reporters.
But the group also included two unaccompanied children, one of them a seven-year-old girl whose family was still in Homs, and the other a teenage boy whose parents were in Lebanon but who had relatives in Homs.
“UNICEF is advocating for the expedited release of all remaining children,” Mercado said.
Under government seige since June 2012 and surviving on the barest of supplies, residents of parts of Homs held by opposition fighters have gradually been evacuated since February 7.
The operation took place after a UN-brokered truce in the city, which has been a hub of the revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
A total of 1,417 people have so far made it out of the Old City of Homs, a rebel bastion which has been pounded on a daily basis by government troops.
According to data issued Friday by the UN’s refugee agency, some 2,500 people still needed to be evacuated from the Old City.
But the operation is currently frozen, with the government side accusing the rebels of having hampered operations, and the truce having ended on Saturday.
The evacuation deal was the only tangible result of a first round of peace talks held under UN auspices in Switzerland in January.
Hundreds of men evacuated from the city have been detained.
The regime has said it is essential to interrogate them in order to weed out “terrorists” — it claims the three-year Syrian revolt is fuelled by foreign jihadists and homegrown Islamists.
But the opposition, which rejects that blanket label on its fighters, sees the decision to separate the men of Homs from women and children as worryingly ominous.
While the United Nations has said that taking men in for questioning is not illegal in a war-time context, it has criticised that of children, and has warned Syria that it is on watch over its treatment of all the detainees.